21 Savage Speaks About Having A British Accent & The Memes Mocking Him
One week ago (February 13), 21 Savage left the Irwin County Detention Center in South Georgia on $100,000 bond. The chart-topping, Grammy-nominated rapper had been in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 10 days. On February 3, he was arrested in Atlanta, Georgia by ICE officials who alleged that the 26-year-old born She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph was unlawfully in the United States as a United Kingdom national. The incident came just days after 21 performed “a lot” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Notably, the i am > i was single includes lyrics that advocate for the rights of immigrants children currently separated from their families, along with other sociopolitical issues.
At a time when Immigration debates are rocking Capitol Hill and the White House, 21’s situation hit home for many in the music community, especially in Rap. Additionally, for an artist so closely associated with a new wave of Rap music from Atlanta, his fans seemingly had no idea that Abraham-Joseph had any ties to England. While there was outrage from some, the news also led to many, including Chris Brown and Demi Lovato, to find humor in the development. After all, the charges suggested that one of the new voices in Southern Rap may be covering a British accent.
After appearing on Good Morning America last Friday (February 15), 21 Savage spoke with The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica in a hotel room in Alpharetta, Georgia. He was accompanied by his legal team. In the Q&A, the father of three opens up about his roots and helping others in the struggle for citizenship. “I come from the poor side of London. My [grandmother’s] house is real skinny. So when we first moved here, we was living in the hood still, but it was, like, way bigger,” notes 21. “The toilet size, the bathroom size, it was just different. But I fell in love with it. It’s all I know.”
Caramanica asks 21 the question that many wanted to know, did he ever have a British accent. “Yeah, I had [an] accent, ’cause my first day of school they was making fun of me so I beat somebody up, and they was calling me ‘taekwondo kid,'” he admits. “My mama whupped me; she made me stay in the house. So I know I had [an] accent, but I been here [for] 20 years — I don’t know what happened to it.”
21 says that he learned of his status surrounding his visa approximately 10 years ago. Because of his status, Abraham-Joseph says he was unable to get a job or get a proper US driver’s license. While his legal team has stated that the rapper was in the process of trying to work on his immigration status at the time of his arrest, 21 explains the delays. “It felt impossible. It got to the point where I just learned to live without [a legal visa]. ’Cause I still ain’t got it, I’m 26, and I’m rich. So, just learned to live without it.” Abraham-Joseph adds that if he was offered a do-over, he would do things the same, citing strength from the hardship that these developments may have caused him and his family. 21’s children and his mother are all currently in the Atlanta area.
While peers such as Wale called out Demi Lovato’s tweet (leading the Pop singer to suspend her account), 21 Savage accepts the humor that some found in his predicament. Asked about the memes, he admits, “Some of them was funny — I ain’t gonna lie. I was appreciative of that. I coulda been another person who just, ‘He locked up? Damn,’ and nobody said nothing. Some people, I see why they was mad. It ain’t about the meme, it’s about the bigger picture. But I done been through way worse things in my life than somebody putting me on a meme. I been shot — what is a meme? A meme is nothing. That’s something on the Internet that I can do like this [turns over phone] and never see again. I look at bullet scars every day, so it’s like, a meme, bro?”
Like “Pay You Back” collaborator Meek Mill following his recent incarceration, 21 Savage says he feels a responsibility to bring awareness to an issue. “My situation is important ’cause I represent poor Black Americans and I represent poor immigrant Americans. You gotta think about all the millions of people that ain’t 21 Savage that’s in 21 Savage shoes.” 21 adds that he is willing to stand up for what he believes, saying “We gon’ fight all the way till the last day even if that mean I sit in jail for 10 years.”
Although he did not address the event in the published conversation, 21 Savage is reportedly awaiting a trial to determine his future in the United States.